Archive for the ‘Green Patents’ category

Pax Accuses Design Firm of Infringing Mollusk-Inspired Rotor Patent

April 22nd, 2009

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Pax Scientific, Inc. (“Pax”) is a San Rafael, California company that specializes in fluid-handling technology used in applications such as fans, mixers, pumps, turbines, heat exchangers, ducts and propellers.  Pax owns U.S. Patent No. 5,934,877 (’877 patent), entitled “Rotor with logarithmic scaled shape”.

The ’877 patent is directed to a rotor, the surface of which is configured according to a logarithmic curve known as the Fibonacci Progression, or the Golden Section.  According to the ’877 patent, this type of surface is commonly found in shells of the phylum Mollusca, particularly in the classes Gastropoda (that’s squid, cuttlefish and octopus to you and me) and Cephalopoda (e.g., snails and slugs).

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This is an example of biomimetics, the application of systems found in nature to the study of engineering and the development of technology.  The ’877 patent states that the invention “enables fluids to move over the surfaces of the rotor in their naturally preferred way, thereby reducing inefficiencies created through turbulence and friction…”

Claim 1 of the ’877 patent reads:

A rotor for use with a fluid flow generator or reactor, said rotor being intended to rotate about a central axis and having a surface which defines an arcuate fluid pathway for fluid flow about the central axis about which the rotor is able to rotate, wherein the surface has the configuration of a logarithmic curve substantially conforming to the Golden Section.

Last month Pax sued Re:Thought, LLC (Re:Thought), a Colorado product design consulting firm, and Robert Irwin, the company’s co-founder, in federal court in San Jose, alleging that the firm’s Biometric Horizontal Wind Axis Turbine (BioHAWT) infringes the ’877 patent. 

According to the complaint (pax_complaint.pdf), Irwin repeatedly contacted Pax’s president and CEO, Jay Harman, about developing a wind turbine using the techniques of biomimetics.  Pax alleges that Irwin revealed details about his design, including pictures and sketches, and solicited technical advice from Harman. 

Despite being warned that his design would infringe Pax’s ’877 patent, the complaint states, Irwin and Re:Thought displayed a prototype of the BioHAWT in Denver in the fall of 2008.  The complaint accuses Re:Thought of direct infringement and and Irwin of contributory infringement and inducing infringement.

Reticle’s Carbon Consolidation Process Produces High Capacitance Electrode Material

April 15th, 2009

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Reticle, Inc. (Reticle) is a Los Altos, California startup that has developed a new carbon electrode material and process of making the material, which is ideal for use in ultracapacitors (see New Energy and Fuel article here).  

Ultracapacitors are used to store energy in applications that require storage of large amounts of energy and rapid energy discharge, such as electric vehicles. 

Ultracapacitors store energy through movement of electrons, i.e., separation of charged species as positive ions called cations migrate to a negatively charged electrode (anode), and negative ions called anions move to a cathode, or positively charged electrode.  The more ions that are attracted to their respective electrodes, the more energy the ultracapcitor stores.

There are two known ways to increase the number of ions attracted – boosting voltage and increasing the surface area of the electrodes.  This is where Reticle comes in.  The company’s patented process produces electrodes from granular activated carbon which have much greater surface area than any known electrode materials presently offered (see the inventor’s cogent explanation here).

Whereas typical processes consolidate carbon by pressing it into thin films, Reticle’s process applies pressure to the carbon material from all sides and obviates the need to add binders or adhesives.  This allows for better automation than other capacitor material, so the material can be machined into any size with lots of conductive surface area.

This picture shows one unique aspect of the resulting material, which the company calls “Reticle Carbon”:

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That is, not only is the surface area greater, but all of the carbon particles remain connected to ensure that all the charge is distributed across the entire surface area of the material.

This table compares the specs and capabilities of two Reticle capacitors with those of a couple of other commercially available products:

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Reticle Carbon also is a good material for desalination applications because the higher mass and surface area allows the acquisition of more ions before a regeneration step would be required.

Reticle’s manufacturing process and resulting carbon material are protected by a family of four U.S. patents:  U.S. Patent Nos. 6,350,520 (claims granular active carbon material made by a high temperature and pressure process), 6,511,645 (claims a process for producing carbon material by consolidating amorphous carbon using elevated temperature compression), 6,544,648 (claims a processed carbon material consolidated under elevated temperature and pressure) and 6,787,235 (claims a processed carbon material consolidated in a hot isostatic press under elevated temperature and pressure).

According to Jack Mastbrook, who does marketing development for Reticle, the company is currently seeking funding to ramp up operations.  But Mastbrook told me that Reticle already has a deal in place to sell its activated carbon to a major consumer products manufacturer, which plans to test the material as a replacement for batteries in its products.

Italian Scooter to be First (Affordable) Plug-in Hybrid in U.S.

April 11th, 2009

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This Gas 2.0 story reports that Piaggio, an Italian motorbike and scooter manufacturer, will launch its MP3 hybrid 3-wheeler in the U.S. in early 2010. 

According to the article, the MP3 would be the first “affordable” plug-in hybrid vehicle of any kind available in the U.S. (I guess that excludes the Tesla Roadster, which sells for over $100K). 

The unusual 3-wheel design of the scooter is protected by U.S. Design Patent No. D547,242 (’242 patent).  A design patent only protects the ornamental features of a device and primarily consists of figures, like this one in the ’242 patent: 

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The MP3 hybrid will offer several operating modes, including electric only and three other hybrid modes – one designed to maximize performance, one to minimize fuel consumption and one to quickly recharge the batteries.

U.S. Patent No. 7,351,265 (’265 patent) covers Piaggio’s scooter-size hybrid technology.  Entitled “Hybrid drive assembly for a vehicle, in particular a scooter,” the ’265 patent is directed to a compact hybrid drive assembly that can be used in small, low-cost road vehicles but still provides a number of different operating modes.

The ’242 patent describes a hybrid drive assembly (1) for a scooter having a rear drive wheel (2).  The drive assembly includes an internal combustion engine (3) having a drive shaft (4).  The drive shaft axis (B) is parallel to the drive wheel’s axis of rotation (A).

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The transmission unit (5) is located between the drive shaft (4) and a propeller shaft (6).  The propeller shaft axis (C) also is parallel to axes A and B.  The transmission unit (5) comprises a continuously variable transmission (7).

The drive assembly (1) also has an electric motor (32), which is connected to the vehicle battery (not shown). 

A control unit responds to input signals and controls the operating mode of the drive assembly.  An all combustion mode provides high performance, and an all-electric mode minimizes fuel consumption.  

The internal combustion engine and electric motor also can be adjusted by the control unit to be connected in series (the combustion engine is only used to charge the battery) or in parallel (both the combustion engine and the electric motor provide drive power).

The MP3 hybrid can be charged by plugging it into a standard electrical socket.  According to the Gas 2.0 article, the MP2 hybrid will be super fuel efficient (141 mpg) with a price tag of only about $8-9,000. 

EC Report Finds IP Rights Don’t Hinder Clean Tech Transfer

April 8th, 2009

A common complaint about intellectual property rights (IPR) is that they prevent or reduce access to important technology in the developing world.  A recently published study examined the validity of this claim with respect to climate change technologies and found that patent rights are not an obstacle to transfer of these technologies to developing countries.

The report was commissioned by the Trade Directorates General of the European Commission and co-authored by Copenhagen Economics and The IPR Company and is entitled “Are IPR a Barrier to the Transfer of Climate Change Technology?”. 

The study examined patent protection and ownership data for seven clean energy technologies – waste and biomass, solar, fuel cells, ocean, geothermal and wind – in low-income developing countries and emerging market economies from 1998 through 2008. 

The study shows the distribution of patent rights by country of residence of the patent holder.  According to the report, one simple reason IPR are not a barrier in developing countries is:

there are hardly any patents on these technologies registered in these countries

To the extent the cost of implementing clean energy technologies in developing countries is high, the report says this is more likely to be due to the immaturity of the technologies than to patent rights. 

Contrary to calls for compulsory licensing or other measures to weaken IPR, the report states that relaxing the IP regime for clean technologies in developing countries would not improve technology transfer to these countries.

As to why there are so few clean tech patents in the developing world, the report posits that patent holders do not apply for protection in these countries because poor technological capacities, economic conditions and market size make developing countries unattractive markets.

In emerging markets that do have favorable conditions for implementation of clean technologies and significant numbers of domestically owned patents (the report cites China as a key example), the study finds that improving patent protection could stimulate both domestic innovation and the transfer of technologies from foreign patent holders.

The report sums up its key finding as follows:

In conclusion, the study finds that intellectual property rights do not in themselves constitute a barrier to the transfer of carbon abatement technology from developed countries, neither to low-income developing countries nor to emerging market economies.  Many other non-technological and more economic factors stand int he way of achieving the carbon abatment objectives of low-income countries.

 

 

 

Honeywell, Cree and Boston University End LED Patent Suit

April 5th, 2009

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Honeywell International Inc. (Honeywell) and North Carolina LED maker Cree Inc. (Cree) have settled a patent suit that involved infringement claims and counterclaims relating to three LED patents.  The Trustees of Boston University (BU), which also settled, was a counterclaim plaintiff because Cree owns exclusive licenses to two patents owned by the university.

According to a Joint Stipulation of Dismissal filed last month (honeywell_dismissal.pdf), Honeywell, Cree and BU agreed to drop all claims and counterclaims in the suit, and each party will pay its own costs and attorney fees.

In October 2007 Honeywell sued Philips Lumileds Lighting Co. (Philips) and Cree in federal court in Marshall, Texas, alleging that the two LED makers infringed U.S. Patent No. 6,373,188 (’188 patent). 

The ’188 patent is directed to a solid-state light emitting device that boosts efficiency by reducing the amount of radiation that escapes from the device.  The patented device is designed to use radiation from an LED to excite phosphors and reflects some of the emitted radiation back to the phosphor layer to further interact with and excite the phosphor material.

Cree subsequently shot back, accusing Honeywell of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 5,686,738 and 7,235,819, both relating to gallium nitride semiconductor materials used in LEDs.

This case has not been without drama.  A previous post reported that the law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker (Paul Hastings), which represented Honeywell, was disqualified from the case in January. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Everingham ordered that Paul Hastings be disqualified from representing Honeywell in the suit because the firm’s government relations work for the Philip Lumileds affiliate Philips Electronics North American Corporation while representing Honeywell adverse to Philips Lumileds created a concurrent conflict of interest under the American Bar Association model ethics rules (paul_hastings_dq_order.pdf).

Apparently, Honeywell’s infringement case against Philips will continue, but where it will be litigated remains up in the air.  A sealed motion by Philips to transfer the case to the Northern District of California remains pending.

 

Green Patent Acquisitions: VAWT Maker and “Windvertiser” WePOWER Purchases PacWind

March 29th, 2009

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WePOWER is a Laguna Niguel, California renewable energy company that provides wind, solar and magnetic energy solutions.  The company’s specialty is vertical axis wind turbines (VAWT) for use in cities and suburban areas.

WePOWER had been partnering with another California VAWT startup called PacWind and announced last month that it has purchased PacWind’s proprietary technologies.  PacWind’s patent portfolio included U.S. Patent No. 7,109,599 (’599 patent) and U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2008/0273978 (’978 application), both relating to omni-directional VAWTs.

The ’599 patent is directed to a wind rotor having a central vertical axis of rotation (13).  The rotor assembly includes an upper ring (25) and a lower ring (26), with a plurality of vanes (35) connected to the upper and lower rings and extending axially between the rings.  An electric generator (40) is supported by the rotor foundation.

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The ’978 application is directed to a vertically-oriented wind turbine (20) with a central axis of rotation (21).  The turbine assembly has a generator (24) mounted to a base (23).  A bearing (25) supports the rotor (26) and mounts two sets of three arms each (28, 29, 30), with one set above the other.  Vanes (31, 32, 33) are rigidly attached to the ends of respective arms (28, 29, 30).

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The PacWind acquisition boosts WePOWER’s position in the medium wind market, including its trendy and cleverly named sub-specialty of wind-powered billboard advertising, which the company calls ”windvertising” (see the “windvertising” piece here, the New York Times article here and the Triple Pundit story here).

WePOWER promotes its Windvertiser program on its web site (see here), and owns U.S. Trademark Application No. 77/707,870 for the WINDVERTISER mark for:

Advertising and advertisment services, namely, promoting and marketing the goods and services of third partis, including select clients, on wind turbines and other renewable energy products

Clean Tech Companies to Congress: Proposed Patent Damages Reform Bad for Green Innovation and Jobs

March 25th, 2009

If anyone was wondering what clean technology companies think about the patent reform legislation pending in the U.S. Congress, a March 9, 2009 letter sent to Representatives John Conyers, Jr., the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Lamar Smith, the Ranking Republican on the committee (greentech_patent_reform_ltr.pdf), provides some indication.

The letter was signed by industry groups such as the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), the Biomass Coordinating Council and the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition, as well as individual organizations such as EESTech, Fallbrook Technologies, Southwest Windpower, Ceres, and the Energy and Environmental Research Center.  Other signatories include chemicals giant DuPont, Syngenta, Monsanto and Konarka Technologies as well as Greentech Capital Advisors and patent analytics firm IP Checkups.

A nearly identical letter, signed by PAX Scientific, was sent to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 10th.

The letter asserts that proposed changes to the law of patent damages in the pending legislation would reduce the value of intellectual property rights and could adversely affect the future of the renewable energy industries.

Currently patent infringement damages are calculated by giving equal weight to a variety of factors.  The “entire market value” rule is one tool in the court’s damages toolbox.  It recognizes that the economic value added to a product or process by the patented feature may be greater than that feature alone. 

Thus, the entire market value rule allows for a damages award based on the full value of the infringing product or process where the patented feature provides the basis for customer demand for the entire product or process.  

By contrast, where the patent covers the entire infringing product or process, the law allows apportionment of damages such that only the features credited to the patentable invention (as distinguished from non-patented elements) form the bases of the damages award.

The pending Senate and House bills seek to limit the entire market value rule and elevate the factor of apportionment.  Specifically, the bills would amend section 284 of the patent statute to limit application of the entire market value rule to situations in which the actual invention (i.e., the specific advance over the prior art) forms the basis of consumer demand for the infringing product or process.

This section also would be amended to require that the reasonable royalty an infringer pays to a patent holder is based on “only the portion of the economic value of the infringing product or process propery attributable to the claimed invention’s specific contribution over the prior art.”

The letter argues that reducing patent damage awards would be detrimental to the clean tech sector for two reasons.  First, it would adversely affect funding and slow innovation:

A significant reduction, or elimination of much of the value of the intellectual property that will be generated through this [innovation] process will have an effect on the availability of venture capital required, decreasing the speed at which innovation will occur.

Second, the letter contends that the damages provisions would hinder green job creation:

If the current patent system is modified, making it less costly to infringe on existing or future patent rights, we anticipate that our competitive advantage in the global marketplace will be reduced, impacting the creation of green jobs.

For the moment at least, the signatories seem to have gotten their wish:  the Senate Judiciary Committee has delayed a meeting to discuss the bill amid calls to change the language of the proposed damages provisions.

Checkin’ Up On Green Patents

March 18th, 2009

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IP Checkups, a Berkeley based patent analytics firm, recently released a report analyzing the patent landscape for thermal energy storage technologies used in concentrating solar thermal (CST) systems.  CST systems focus sunlight using lenses, mirrors or tracking systems so the concentrated light can be used as a heat source for a conventional power plant.

The report, entitled Grid-Scale Concentrated Solar Thermal:  Thermal Energy Storage Technologies, identifies the important patents and players in the space and analyzes the level of patent protection, including patent claims assessments and key licensing agreements.

The report covers patents and published applications from 1981 to 2008 from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the European Patent Office, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Japanese Patent Office. 

The CST technologies covered are parabolic, fresnel lens, solar tower and dish engine systems, and the storage methods include molten salt, thermocline, phase-change materials, compressed steam, water, concrete, cement, rock, ammonia, carbon dioxide and graphite.

According to the report, United Technologies and its subsidiaries Hamilton-Sundstrand and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne enjoy the broadest patent protection for molten salt thermal storage technology, with Santa Monica based SolarReserve ready to license the technology.  Other players with significant thermal storage patents including Abengoa, Ausra, Bell Independent Power, SkyFuel, Solar Millenium and Yeda Research & Development.

Patent landscape analyses such as IP Checkups’ report can be useful for assessing the competitive landscape in a particular technology area to identify acquisition and licensing candidates and decide where to file patent applications. 

Although there are other firms out there that do patent analytics, including, for example, Sunlight Research and IPriori, when I spoke to Matt Rappaport, a co-author of the report, he told me that IP Checkups’ approach is more “patent-centric” than its competitors.  According to Mr. Rappaport, IP Checkups’ analysis is focused on the scope of patent families, the content of the patents and the breadth of the patent claims.

More information on the report can be found here, and a lightly redacted excerpt demonstrating the types of analyses used can be downloaded here.

In Confident Open Letter, RPI Updates Customers on Remediation Patent Suit

March 15th, 2009

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In a previous post, I wrote about a patent dispute over BOS 100, a reactant used in groundwater remediation that removes chlorine from chlorinated contaminants.  There are two lawsuits involving this technology, both pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina in Charlotte. 

In the first suit, Remediation Products, Inc. (RPI), a Golden, Colorado company that makes and sells the BOS 100 product, sued Adventus Americas, Inc. (Adventus) and EnviroMetal Technologies, Inc. (ETI), requesting a declaratory judgment that the BOS 100 does not infringe U.S. Patents Nos. 5,266,213 (’213 patent) and 5,534,154 (’154 patent) and that the patents are invalid (rpi_complaint.pdf).

In the second suit, ETI, the exclusive licensee of several groundwater remediation patents including the ’213 and ’154 patents, along with Adventus (the sub-licensee of the patents), sued AST Environmental, Inc.  and Calgon Carbon Corp. (collectively “Defendants”), alleging infringement of six of the licensed patents.

According to the complaint (adventus_complaint.pdf), Defendants are infringing the patents by making and selling BOS 100.

Last month, RPI put out an open letter to its customers to provide an update on its lawsuit aginst Adventus and ETI.  The letter (rpi-letter-to-customers.pdf) states that RPI is also seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement of four patents relating to a combination of fibrous organic matter and a multi-valent metal which were asserted by Adventus and ETI.

The letter reports that the court has issued a claim construction order in the case and notes that the claim term “body of metal” was interpreted (rpi_claims_clarification.pdf) to exclude anything other than metal particles:

The Court previously construed the term “body of metal” to mean “a collection of particles of metal into an amount.”  The Court clearly did not include anything other than metal in its construction of the term.  To the extent that the term needs to be clarified, the Court finds that the body of metal does not include anything other than metal particles.  (internal citations omitted)

According to the letter, this interpretation contradicts a position taken by ETI in its 2005 Open Letter to the Remediation Industry which suggested that the use of iron “in combination with other materials” for remediation falls under the company’s “base technology.” 

Moreover, RPI believes it has a strong case on invalidity, the letter explains, because two of the prior art references it is relying on were found to invalidate the Japanese counterpart of the ’213 patent, and those invalidity findings were upheld by the Japanese Supreme Court.

C12 Energy (Continued): Harvard’s International Patent Application Provides More Clues About Stealth Startup

March 11th, 2009

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about C12 Energy (C12), a Cambridge, Massachusetts startup that is apparently working on processes for capturing carbon dioxide by increasing the alkalinity of the ocean, thereby enhancing its ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide.  

I noted that there was no publicly available U.S. patent or published application covering C12′s technology, though the company’s president and chief technology officer, Dr. Kurt Zenz House, published an article in the journal Environmental Science & Technology describing his carbon capture method.

An alert reader pointed out that Dr. House’s CV is available through his homepage, and the CV has a “Patents Filed” heading, under which it lists “Carbon Dioxide Capture and Related Processes” and states:

Primary inventor of a novel chemical process that removes CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it permanently-International patent filed by Harvard University

Indeed, after shifting my focus from U.S. patents and applications to an international search, I was able to locate House’s patent application.  International Application No. PCT/US2007/010032 (’032 application) was filed April 26, 2007 with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and published on February 14, 2008 as WO 2008/018928

The ’032 application lists the owners as Harvard (where Dr. House got his Ph.D.) and the Penn State Research Foundation and claims priority to two U.S. provisional applications (provisional applications are essentially one-year placeholders which are not examined or published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office).

The ’032 application describes and claims the carbon capture methods discussed in House’s journal article.  Claim 1 broadly recites the invention:

1.  A process for capturing carbon dioxide comprising:

providing water;

processing the water to generate acidic solution and alkaline solution;

neutralizing the acidic solution; and

capturing the carbon dioxide from a source of carbon dioxide with the alkaline solution.

One intriguing aspect of the ’032 application is the synergy with fuel cell technology it claims.  Claim 33 recites an extension of the basic process wherein iron ions produced by neutralizing the acidic solution with reactive species provided from a rock and/or mineral source are oxidized in a fuel cell reaction to produce electricity.

Claim 15 recites another variation whereby the water processing step (to generate acidic solution and alkaline solution) of claim 1 is performed by electrolysis, and the electrolysis produces a halogen gas, a hydrogen gas, and sodium hydroxide.  The resulting halogen gas and hydrogen gas are then reacted in a fuel cell to form the acidic solution and produce electricity.

Another method, recited in claim 36, captures CO2 by reacting it with sodium hydroxide and generates chlorine gas and hydrogen gas.  The hydrogen gas may be oxidized with oxygen either in a hydrogen gas turbine (claim 43) or in a fuel cell (claim 44), in each case forming water and electricity.

The written description of the ’032 application states:

Another benefit of the process is that some of the steps (e.g., the formation of HCl in a fuel cell) produce useful energy that can be used in other aspects of the process.  The energy may be generated, for example, from hydrogen production during the dissolution of reduced minerals (e.g., minerals comprising iron), electricity production through a fuel cell (e.g., FeCl2-HCl-O2; FeCl2-O2), or heat generated during the dissolution of silicate rocks and minerals.  Because the energy cost is a large component of the total cost for most conventional CO2 capture and storage technologies, the low energy cost of the process represents a valuable technological advancement. 

Dr. House’s article together with publication of the ’032 application provides some interesting clues about C12′s technology and business model.  Whatever the company is planning, it wants to do it just about everywhere:  the ’032 application designates countries and regions for patent protection all over the world, including the U.S., Canada, Europe, Eurasia, Africa, China, Japan, Australia and many others.